Tasmania's Special Places
Pearl MacDonald* loves to dance. As an intelligent, energetic, and enthusiastic 11-year-old she enjoys the beach and the parks and the playgrounds.
But above all she adores her dance studio where she can express herself through movement. It is her special place.
"I have been dancing at my studio since I was three years old, and it is pretty much like a second home because I spend a lot of time there," she said.
The dancers, who attend several different primary and high schools around Launceston, come together as the tightest of friends to practise, rehearse, and perform at the highest level possible.
They form a formidable dancing clan: committed, dedicated, tightknit, and full to the brim with kindness and support for one another. And as much as Pearl MacDonald works hard at her own performance, it is her clan that she cares for most.
"Our dance community is encouraging and caring. We support each other to do our best and we make sure no one is left out," she said.
A clan is steeped in Scottish tradition.
The Gaelic word clann or clanna literally means children and describes a family grouping combined with additional members who adopt the surname of the clan's leader to demonstrate loyalty.
Clans originated some 900 years ago with many coming together to ward off the Norsemen or the English from taking their homes. Their purpose was also to manage land and farming opportunities for the people.
The clan system across Scotland was destroyed during the final Jacobite rising, which was determined to return James Francis Edward Stuart to the British throne during 1745. The Jacobite's suffered a heavy defeat in the Battle of Culloden at the hands of Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and his English army.
Like so many individuals, community groups, recreation providers, and sporting clubs, 2020 has challenged Pearl MacDonald's clan. But it has not been stopped nor defeated.
For just the second time in its 118-year history the Launceston Competitions have been abandoned due to COVID-19. The popular Launceston Festival of Dance has also been cancelled for the same reason.
"I have lots of memories from my time at the dance studio, but a favourite one was winning a group overall trophy at Launceston Competitions for the best trained under-10 group," she said.
"We worked really hard as a team and to be rewarded with that prize made it especially memorable."
Pearl MacDonald is a people person - bubbly, and humorous. Yet she has found the COVID-19 period challenging because during home-schooling she couldn't just put her hand up to ask a question.
Although, "I did love finishing all my schoolwork by lunchtime and having the rest of the day to myself," she said.
Pearl MacDonald was able to FaceTime and message her friends to keep in contact. Although, she found it difficult not interacting with them in person.
She continued to dance and sing via Zoom at home, but acknowledged: "it's always more fun in the studio with friends".
Pearl MacDonald enjoys the traditional dance forms of ballet and jazz, along with kicking and hip hop. Yet it is song and dance that remains her favourite. With a delightful tone she can combine her passion for dance with the art of singing, which provides the most pleasure.
Nonetheless, if you ask her to choose another favourite moment, she thinks of a cherished memory involving teammates from the Scottish Highland Dancing clan at her studio - a historic and culturally rich form of dance.
Highland dancing (dannsa Gàidhealach)gained popularity across Scotland during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, the history of the Scottish Sword Dance (Gille Chaluim), crossing two swords with four quarters, can be traced back to 1054 when it was most likely performed as a war dance.
"One of my fondest memories was at an end of year break-up party for highland. All the age groups came together to play games and share food and it was heaps of fun," she said.
The dance studio is unique because it is a place where Pearl MacDonald feels safe to freely express herself.
"The friendships I have formed make it a special place for me because we all have a passion for dance, and we have great teamwork," she said.
The dance studio's teachers underpin her special place because they put a lot of time and effort into making the dancers the best they can be. Like the great Scottish families of centuries past, young people need their clans. It allows leaders to develop and flourish while also prioritising those who require additional support to succeed.
Pearl MacDonald values friendship, and the commitment she feels for her dancing clan demonstrates just how important it is to provide opportunities for young people to gather and interact in a safe and welcoming environment.
"I love to sing and dance, and my studio is extra special because I get to do it with my friends," she said.
*Name changed for privacy reasons.
- Brian Wightman is a former Tasmanian Attorney-General and school principal.
Sign up to one of our newsletters: